Archive for the 'Reflections' Category



13
May
10

addenda

Seven days ago Adopted Daughter and I came to terms. She spoke to me and I to her. I felt her presence. That evening I went to a Taize prayer service and lit a candle for her, for my sister, for Darling Daughter and for some other souls dear to me. It was a spectacular experience being in that church, bathed in beauty and feeling her presence.

My freedom from acedia lasted 4 days. Sometimes all it takes is for a well meaning person to say something a bit off putting and my whole structure comes tumbling down like a child’s tower of blocks. We call this phenomenon the last straw, or the straw that broke the camel’s back, or…that was just one too many! So that is what happened after 4 acedia-free days: one too many straws and I’m back slogging through the dense underbrush.

For the past 3 days I again feel as though I am moving about in a tent of gauze—layers and layers of gauze. In this gauzy tent I have added 2 more Kathleen Norris books: Amazing Grace and The Virgin of Bennington. I am now starting on The Cloister Walk, her account of becoming a Benedictine Oblate. I am looking for something…an answer to a question I do not know and cannot ask.

I have to balance carefully so that I do not slip off into depression. Now in my 7th decade, having lost more than I care to count, I no longer see an open ended future as I once did—as the young do. I see an ending now and time becomes a gift…no longer taken for granted. One day I will pass to the other side and I think it will be grand. I do not plan to leave any secrets behind—any stones unturned—any opportunities unappreciated, even if unacceptable.

07
May
10

what could have been

I’ve been reading a new book by Kathleen Norris called, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. Ms. Norris is a highly acclaimed poet, and author. All of the words in the title of this book are appealing to me, even the word acedia, and that is because I had no idea what it meant. Acedia, I am told, is a state of spiritual listlessness, sadness, melancholy, apathy, carelessness, and lethargy—a pathway to sloth. Originally an affliction among the monastics and religious, it was considered to have the potential of undermining faith and sensibility. It differs from clinical depression in its spiritual orientation, but can be the precursor of depression.

After the first several chapters I came to see the funk I’ve been in much of the time since adopted daughter’s death, as acedia in varying degrees. This definition stops my free-fall state with a safety net of insight. Like a person ill for years and finally getting a diagnosis that it is not “all in the head”, I feel relief. The book is dense with messages for me on all levels of my life—from aspects of faith life, to matters of creative work, marriage, illness and death, I am infused with new insights to my own shadow side.

In the last few chapters of the book, Ms Norris shares the story of her husband’s illness and death from cancer, and her experience as sole caregiver, that got my heartfelt attention. I identify. That’s me in both places: cancer patient and caregiver. Her account of care giving, both during her husband’s illness and after his death speak loudly to me. I’ve been there. I know. I’m still there.

It has been 9 weeks since adopted daughter died. Not really that long in grieving terms, but my grief has a twist to it. As executors of the estate and caretakers of all things left behind, we have been stunned to find shelves and shelves of her life that she did not share with us—did not share with anyone. In fact, we see that she lived her life in serial compartments, like an old-fashioned rolltop desk. There is a quotation my mother would offer about not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing. This could be applied. The problem is that the original comes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:3) and is a moral directive to giving, not hiding.

What I have seen is a person I loved dearly enough to call daughter, who didn’t trust me, or anyone else enough to confide the many truths of her life that would have made the executing of her estate a far less messy and painful affair. But more than this consideration is that the love and trust she did give me was the best she could do. That says volumes. Hidden until the end. Every time she called me mamacita, she did so with the half she felt would not be rejected. “I would have loved you anyway’, I say to her memory. ‘I would have loved you and helped you make the crooked as straight as possible in the few days and weeks that were left”. If she were anyone else, I would be speaking philosophically and with a bit of distance, but because I took her as a daughter, I speak with the pain of not having been able to do all I know I could have done for her. This is a tragedy to me. Although I witnessed God’s redeeming forgiveness to her in those last few days, and know Grace was given completely, I feel a mourning for what was left out between us. I would have liked to give her the human forgiveness she was sure she didn’t deserve. But maybe in her morphine altered days, she knew it was there, and maybe she made that transaction in the shadows of her heart and soul…maybe that’s what I saw in her face as I administered the meds hour after hour with more tender love than I thought I had in me to give.

So what is the problem? Why does acedia haunt me like a child playing hide and seek in dress-up clothes? I don’t know. I am beginning to think that acceptance, letting go, and letting be is my spiritual discipline forevermore.

I hoped that by the time I finished writing this post I would have pushed through acedia, at least for a time. The estate is not yet settled and my personal sense of mourning for what could have been is not over. I do not have the sense of adopted daughter’s presence as I did with my sister after she died. I cannot explain this except to say that she never allowed herself to belong to anyone. Despite her promise to learn to hover in our lives, she does not. Perhaps there is a learning curve in the afterlife. Perhaps we are connected by this curve…she over there and me over here. Perhaps there will be a happy ending when my soul finally floats free.

Postscript: The deceptions we keep in our lifetimes may very well come to light after the funeral when there is little that can be done to alter them in any way.

15
Apr
10

smiling from memory

I am immersed in constructing a new blog and preoccupied with it. It will be something different—a site dedicated to the practice of art as spiritual experience. But I have to keep Called by Name and Longing for Light going as well. Pondering what to add to this one since my last posting, I look out toward the porch where Adopted Daughter, Bettina, used to conduct teleconferences last summer. She was vital and energetic. We were certain she’d be a long-term survivor, just because we couldn’t imagine it any other way. I am overwhelmed by the sunlight, the young green, the gentle breeze, and the peacefulness. The cats sleep. All is quiet except for the occasional rustling of the breeze through the living room vertical blinds. It is the same today as it was last year. Nothing has changed but the occupancy. I am quite alone today, and every day.

This gets to me now. We used to be a little family of three. She was here quite a bit of the time because she worked from home a lot. We got on very well. She was busy with her work and I was busy with mine. We were friendly wallpaper for each other. And then there were the cats who roamed about in their friendly furry ways. Troubles aside, life was good in those family days—family is good. Alone is good too…when it’s partial…when I know the family will assemble at the dinner table…when the family will talk and share and the house will fill with energy.

I found these notes on an entry I’d intended to post, but never got around to doing so. It was to be a loving bit of humor. With a bit of editing it’s a loving look backward to share with you:

I used to live with a business engineer, a fixer of problems, a leader of persons. All day long AD sat in a big chair with a computer and a headset. I was in a room below, just far enough away to hear the conversations rippling along as I worked along in my own world. Every now and then I actually heard, or I should say listened to what was being said. After many, many months of this I had been able to piece a few things together…enough to know that AD was something of a symphony conductor, keeping a whole group, or team of persons moving forward in a world of endless projects needing completion. The quality of completion is important. To reach the client’s expectational need is a must, but to go beyond that to fantastic and under budget is another diamond in the Executive Vice President’s crown and a twinkle in AD’s eyes. She is good, very, very good.

Her world has a language of its own, which I sometimes find quite amusing. Here are some of the words and phrases I hear repeatedly,  I even began to recognize who some of the people were, just by the sound of AD’s voice. If I listen with my ears tuned to memory, I can still hear it:

Acceptance rate

Approval rate

Circle back

Good with that!

It’s all good! It’s all good

It’s all about…

Moving the needle on this thing.

No worries!

Qualification rate

Reach-out

Right? Pause for 3 seconds

Shoot you an email

Take rate

We’re all about…

Zen, baby, zen!

Some of you may be familiar with this business-speak. I found it curiously strange. I don’t think you will hear me using any of these phrases. I have my own language. On a good day, I can even remember what it is 🙂

25
Mar
10

birds would walk

I heard an ornithologist say in a documentary program, that birds would walk if they could. That’s how he explained the ostrich and the penguins and the 40 some species of other flightless birds. He said that most of them have evolved in the absence of predators. Hmm, I wonder about this. Why would a bird give up that incredible gift of flying? Why not keep flying on the back burner as a fun thing to do every now and again, just for the heck of it? Evolution, he said.

Well, I envy the birds who fly and fly and fly. I am a bird—clearly evolved past flying—yet something I feel/imagine. My bones, though small, are way too heavy to fly, and yet I think that I should be able to do so. I fly in spirit. Right now, my wings are wet and heavy with grief, so I only make circles low to the ground.

I have entered a time of life when losses seem to be piling up all around me. But still I fly…maybe not so high, maybe not so joyfully, maybe not so vigorously…probably more mournfully than not. But God has provided some angels to walk with me. Each one strokes and dries a different feather. I need all these angels and am grateful for them, even if I don’t seem to sound that way. One of these angels gave me a book that I often read at night. Last night I found this poem. Listen:

THE HYMNS OF THE EARTH

I wanted to be a hermit and only hear the hymns
of the earth, and the laughter of the sky,

and the sweet gossip of the creatures on my limbs,
the forests.

I wanted to be a hermit and not see another face
look upon mine and tell me I was not
all the beauty in this
world.

For so many faces do that–
cage us.

The wings we have are so fragile
they can break from just
one word, or

a glance void
of love.

I wanted to live in that cloister of
light’s silence

because, is it not true, the heart
is so fragile and shy.

St. Catherine of Siena (translated by Daniel Ladinsky from his book, Love Poems from God.

26
Feb
10

there is now

My days have a quality of completeness…each one complete in itself. This is a very curious thing to me. I’ve always been a person connected to tomorrow, next week, next month…always looking ahead with lists and plans. Now my lists are contained and geared to completing each day without something important being forgotten. I am a care-giver for adopted daughter and I do this whole-heartedly, because our relationship no longer has tomorrows and next years in it. It is now…today…this minute, this hour. There will be no retirement for the three of us…no peace van  with satellite dish on top to roam the country like a traveling road show. There is now and I am thankful for that.

AD calls me mama all the time now and I respond naturally. I am old enough to be her mama. We met shortly after her mother’s untimely death. Her mother and I were close to the same age at the time. I wonder if I could have been a good mother to one as talented, smart and…dare I say it… headstrong as AD? I doubt it. In those days I was barely able to keep house and home together. I have grown through the years. No going back.

Today I am more than I was a year ago. There is a part of me that has blossomed because of our friendship. In the last couple of weeks we have come to call ourselves “a good team” and that is true. We are a good team for progressive change—making things happen. I am the emotional-intuitive. She is the intuitive-analytical. Together we make a good team and we continue to be that until she slips off into the last days and hours. And maybe even then, I might find it continues. She says she will be hovering and I will know. It has been my experience that persons important to me lie deep in my heart after they pass away—become part of me.

This is AD’s favorite picture of herself…

02
Feb
10

life since then

I have not written since the eve of our membership ceremony. So much has happened since that day. I will start by sharing with you in this posting, the words I spoke to the members of my new congregation, and thereby bring you up to date on that part of my journey.

Membership Sunday, January 24, 2010 – Naomi

I am not a newcomer to pain and disappointment. I did not live a charmed life. It was as a single desperate mother that I came to Reba Place Fellowship in 1972. I had come to the end of my road——what I knew how to do to survive. My first experience of worship at Reba was amazing. Most everyone will tell the same story: It was the abundance of love that drew me in; it felt unconditional and I sorely needed a place to lie down. Life at Reba had its ups and downs. It was a mixed bag, but one thing was certain: It was discipleship 24/7. I became a Christian there in the Immersion Method. Whether guided or misguided, we lived Matthew 18 in households of various sizes. There were a number of painfully misguided events that were personally devastating to me, but on the whole, I don’t believe I could have had a better grounding in Christian life and principles than I received at the Reba “boot-camp.”

Judy and I met at Reba Place and have been life partners for 32 years. Devotional journaling was an everyday event. During one of these times in our last few tumultuous months at Reba, we each received a word, or prophecy, that we were not to worry; and that God had given us to each other for the purpose of becoming the full persons he intended us to be.

Living this out was not possible at Reba and we eventually had to endure a painful leave taking. It was with this vision at the center of our life together that we journeyed through the next 30 years in a kind of Ruth and Naomi relationship, searching for an acceptable version of what we’d left behind.

Judy and I have been true partners through many deep waters. We’ve had many challenges as well as blessings. We survived and prospered in the secular world, but we never found another spiritual home for worship.

Now at the beginning of my 7th decade, having survived round one of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and the recent experience of church non-acceptance, I believe I am finally growing up and into the child God made me at the moment I was conceived. It has been a hard road with many rough stones, but here by the water, I build an altar of praise and thanksgiving to the One God—faithful life-giver, stone smoother, transformer and charmer who has indeed Called me by Name and never let the water overcome me.

After all is said and done and the fire has been laid to rest, I see that although only grafted in and not cradled in, I am a Mennonite and one day, just once, I’d like to wear a little white bonnet—to stand under it, just to know what it feels like to be so represented by honor.

I am delighted beyond words to be here…to lay down the gifts God has given me to give to you. It is an enormous blessing to be part of the wheel of life, turning and coming round right.

18
Jan
10

Aprons

Recently a friend shared stories with me of growing up with two grandmothers: Big Granny and Little Granny. I found these stories quite poignant. How lucky he is to have had these two wise women loving him into a fine person! And how lucky were his parents to have had extended family to help with the nurturing of their little birds. The extended family, common in Mennonite culture, is becoming rare in the nuclear-family-is-all Americana of today.

The other day he forwarded one of those trips down memory lane emails full of pictures and clever quips. It was about aprons. He says,

This was sent to me from a dear friend, who thought it might resonate. It certainly did, with memories of both Big Grandma and Little Grandma. I had to laugh at the dusting reference, and cry at the overall memory of what amazing, hardworking, capable and loving women they were—all stirred by a simple piece of cloth.

The Apron email begins this way:

I don’t think our kids know what an apron is. The principal use of Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath, because she only had a few, it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and they used less material, but along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven. It was wonderful for dusting, drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears.

My own grandma came from the old country at a very advanced age, having survived the Armenian Genocide. She did not speak English. She probably wore an apron, but I don’t remember.What I remember are the black clothes she wore, head to toe and the sadness she carried about her. However, my mother wore aprons, big-time…it was the 1950’s and aprons were still a practical piece of clothing for older women like my mother. I remember her nagging me to “put on an apron,” but I was headed for the 60’s and 70’s. By then aprons were getting smaller and smaller until by the 80’s they disappeared into jeans and sweat pants. Do I wear one now that I am o-l-d? No, I’m still doing the 80’s thing and wiping my hands on the side of my pants leg!

Here’s a little composite I made for you in honor of aprons…the face on the chubby lady in the center is my mother. The chubby body is not. Ah, the miracle of Photoshop!

Hi Mom!

28
Dec
09

chain of events

I love the concept of a chain of events. According to Wikipedia, a chain of events is a number of actions and their effects that are contiguous and linked together. Then there is the fabric of events, i.e., an expansion of the chain of events, emphasizing that chains of events are intertwined with each other as a fabric. Whether chain or fabric, such experiences can give one pause to reflect and reflect I shall.

It was snowing Saturday morning as partner  Big Dawg and I packed up my 1999, All Wheel Drive, Outback with all the paraphernalia needed for updating the liturgical installation at our church from Advent to Christmas/Epiphany. I brought along everything I could think of that might be needed for this task, including an extra sweater and gloves without fingers, just in case the church was freezing cold inside…something I suspected could be the frugal case.

We arrived and were met at the door by the clean-up volunteers who generously donate their time in love. Being met at the door meant that we didn’t have to struggle with the stubborn locks that prefer to receive keys copied from the originals, lost long ago and now forgotten by everyone but the locks themselves. We hadn’t been there more than 10 minutes when I realized that I had left half the new material at home…the half I had to hang first! Although the church is only 20 minutes  from home by toll road, it was snowing and I didn’t want to disturb Adopted Daughter’s rest by asking her to bring the missing pieces to us, so of course faithful partner, BD went back for the goods.

While she was gone I was busy with all the peripheral tasks. Then after about 45 minutes my cell phone rang and then stopped. I thought BD was outside the church door waiting for me to let her in, but no…no one at the door…just snow and cold. I called her back expecting anything but her shaky voice on the other end of the line. She told me that she had gotten halfway back to the church with the pieces I’d left behind, when the hood of the car angrily flew up, crashing the windshield, breaking the rear-view mirror and leaving only a couple of inches of cracked windshield for her to see the road and steer the errant vehicle off to the side through ice and driving snow, while traffic whizzed by. While I was balancing on emergency mode with practicality and calm—a thing I do about an hour before I realize all the could have beens and go to pieces—she said she had already strapped the hood down, was looking through the sharded windshield and heading back home for another car. I had time to think about the could have beens and how it must have  felt to have been the driver: SCARY!

I was not feeling upset or disappointed or anything that I could locate, beside gratitude that no other cars were involved and no one died (especially BD). I think I was in some level of shock, not wishing to feel an additional layer of life challenges. AD’s illness required a live-in-the-now lifestyle and I was working hard at being good at it. BD was a good driver. I was grateful and not surprised that she managed so well.

When BD arrived, we got to work, finished the task and headed home in what had been the old faithful station wagon. We drove slowly, carefully and quietly so as not to disturb our querulous hearts. Once at home, we made the insurance call, took care of whatever business was in front of us and had lunch. It was later on, when I went out to the garage that I saw the car…really saw it! My heart began to sag as I took it in and realized what it must have felt like to have this big piece of metal suddenly fly up and toward, like a determined bird of prey. We talked about it then…the what ifs and the could have beens and the would have beens. BD had been cool and competent during the attack: emergency mode.

So if the latch was working on giving way, and would have eventually done so regardless of weather, what I ask, would I have done had it let loose while I was driving? I’m pretty sure I would not have been competent or cool. The possible scenarios are unnerving. I do not believe in pre-destination or anything that leaves the relevance of God out of the picture. So I take this experience to my heart and do not dissect or analyze it. God’s grace prevailed. I don’t need a reason. God has called me by name and has not let the river overcome me….once again.

Tonight we took the poor, dear car to the body shop. It has a date with the insurance claims adjuster. They will tell us and we will say yes. Weeks from now Dear Car will be ready to roll and so will we.  Grace again and again.

24
Dec
09

christmas eve

It is late afternoon on Christmas Eve and all through the house not a person is stirring, not even a cat. The laundry is done and folded with care in hopes that my loved ones will have something to wear.

Ah, the memories of childhood…that advent of wonder. The sacred world begins to turn a new page on the first Sunday of Advent each year. As a child, I didn’t know that  Christmas was more than Santa, presents, family and fun.  I love Advent from start to finish. It’s just Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that bring a lump to my throat. Family, you know.

Yesterday I marked the first year anniversary of my oldest sister’s death from lymphoma. She was a mother/sister and a cancer buddy to me. A week ago, I learned that my adopted daughter’s cancer has returned. She and I are also cancer buddies—she having been diagnosed two months after me in 2006. She’s has three recurrences in three years, while I spent the past three years recovering and achieving remission. The past week has been full of challenges, both painfully sad and amazingly joyous. I am thankful for God’s grace and the love of friends. This small, chosen family of ours is standing in the wind…holding on tight, even as we let go, as we must…as we all eventually must.

I will write more about this as we go. Right now, it’s time make merry. It’s Christmas! And at midnight, even the animals speak!

30
Nov
09

giving thanks

My last posting was November 18. I talked a lot about time…my sense of time as a cancer survivor in her 7th decade. Whew! I made it through the looking glass and I’m none the worse for wear. In fact, maybe a bit better for the wear…a little more polished. This birthday may have been one of the most outstanding of my life. Many spots and splashes of love from family and friends, old and new…splashes of love like stars sparkling in a small universe of God-lights. It was memorable.

Sometimes I’ve gone to bed asking God if s/he loves me. Of course, I knew and know the answer, but I  needed to ask the question, just out of habit in the same way that sometimes we ask our spouse, our lover: “Do you love me?” A tiny bit of assurance after a long day’s work or a difficult day’s successful encounters. I am so incredibly human, so flawed, a sprouting mustard seed, a bird with big wings to grow into. Made in God’s image. That is a comforting thought.

It is 1:30 A.M. I’m looking back over the hills and valleys of the past 12  days looking for meaningful events to share with you. There was the evening my friend and his young family came with cookies to celebrate my birthday. How can one be sad in the presence of young, vibrant, loving children dancing and prancing about—their laughter, drawings, paper snowflakes—all love gifts…God-gifts of God-light.

There were many messages from here and there—affirmations. People appearing like open pages in a children’s pop-up book. One person  from so long ago, a fellow cancer survivor saying a private hello on face book, just because he’d read this blog and the years melted away. That was awesome, as the kids like to say.

Dinner with good friends…always a nice treat, and I had several of them, each very loving and memorable. But lunch with my daughter at a wonderful French restaurant, just she and I, cozy and sweet was very special. If you are pining away for quiche or crepes…or Buche de Noel…be good to yourself…enjoy those things at a good French restaurant. You will be pleased. The French know how to prepare foods for gastronomic happiness.

Thanksgiving day came soon after my birthday, and I had much to be thankful for. There is one little story of losing and finding my wallet that I will save for a separate posting, as it deserves it’s own place. Thanksgiving day 2009 was the first major holiday that my biological family and I faced without my oldest sister, who died in December of 2008. And it was the first major holiday that my partner and I faced since the bad old times of 2008/09. They say the first year is the hardest. I expect that is true.

As my dwindling family and I sat down to eat on Thanksgiving day, one of my young, great nephews announced that he had written a prayer of thanksgiving and would like to read it. He is a very sweet and sensitive boy. As it turned out he was overcome with stage fright and couldn’t read it, so his dad read it for him. The prayers of the young and sincere are touching in their innocence. This prayer was lovely but was missing a couple of adjectives in one of the points of gratefulness, so there were stifled chuckles from some and unabashed laughter from the younger sibling who sat directly across from the author of the thanksgiving prayer. Embarrassment, humiliation the color of red beets! My heart went out to him because I have been in that same spot as a child with adults laughing and smiling. It took many grown-up decades to really understand that they were not laughing at me, but expressing, however awkwardly, their enjoyment of my child-self singing a song, or telling a story, or reciting some verse or another. Those early experiences of perceived ridicule formed parts of my character for a very long time.

I sat at the table for what seemed like way too many minutes, feeling for him, wanting to comfort him…cover him with this understanding I now have. I sat until I couldn’t sit any longer, asked God to give me words and knelt down next to him, his red-beet face in his hands. I don’t know if what I said helped him or not. He is a very shy boy and way too sensitive for the competitive, heart-breaking world we live in. I was thankful for the glimpse of his soul that came my way to stay. I will always feel connected to this little boy from a foreign land. What I witnessed will be sacred to me. Maybe some day he will know that and be glad, as I was glad for the rather few adults in my growing up life who made a place for me, a very different sort of duck, in what I thought was a world of swans.




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